Information for family and friends of survivors


It is important for a survivor of sexual abuse to be listened to, and believed, whether they have recently been attacked, or are talking about events that happened some time ago, for example, in their childhood.

This leaflet aims to give some helpful information on how to respond if you are in the situation where a family member, partner or friend has just started speaking out about their own experience of childhood sexual abuse or rape.

Do Not ...

Do not tell them to forget about it. Do not say "it happened a long time ago, why does it suddenly bother you now?" Healing can take time and some people block or try to forget traumatic events. This is a way of coping with what has happened. Remembering can be triggered by events such as the birth of a baby, a TV program, marriage, changing jobs, starting a new relationship, death of an abuser, etc.

Do not ask them why they did not fight back. People can freeze when confronted with a terrifying situation.

Do not ask why they did not say anything sooner. If it happened when they where young, they may have tried to tell but were ignored or disbelieved. Most people do try to tell someone at some time.

Do not tell them what to do. They need to be in control of their own decisions about matters that affect them. You can help them to explore options that are available to them.

Do not pressure them into doing, or talking about things they are not ready to face. When they are ready, they will speak.

How Can I Help?

LISTEN to what she has to say and let her take her time. It might not be easy for her to start talking about an event that she has kept silent about for a long time. It may be difficult because she may have been told "not to tell" by the abuser at the time.

BELIEVE people rarely lie about sexual abuse or rape. Why would they? It is important to believe what they are saying.

RESPECT both her feelings and decisions. If she feels like crying, let her, it can be part of her healing process.

REMEMBER it is not her fault. No one asks to be abused and she cannot be blamed for not preventing the abuse. The blame lies with the abuser.

RECOGNIZE the courage it takes for a survivor to speak up. It takes a great deal of courage to face up to fears and also to talk about any sexual experience.

What about Sexual Contact?

If it is your partner that has just remembered some past abuse which she has blocked out, she may find sexual and intimate contact difficult. It is important to realize that it is not something to do with you - it is to do with the feelings and memories she has. Reassure her and let her take things at her own pace. With your help, patience and understanding, she can heal from the trauma.

What About my Feelings?

The feelings you are experiencing are justified, but may add to the upset for the survivor. She may feel responsible for upsetting you. Seek support from a trusted friend, family member or your doctor or therapist.

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If you are going to work with ritual abuse survivors, you must also get educated if you want to be effective. And you must learn to be humble. Trauma survivors do not need to be around ignorant, modern-day Pharisees. Survivors in pain need people who will connect with them on an emotional level, get right down in there where they are, and listen. --Kathleen Sullivan